Kensington Blues: How a photographer gives prostitutes a voice online


Few people would venture to Philadelphia’s red light district to hear prostitutes’ stories firsthand. But Jeffrey Stockbridge is using his blog to do just that. 

Sam doesn’t fit the Hollywood portrayal of a prostitute. A stone-faced, 40-year-old woman, she stands against the wall as she shares her story. Sam began turning tricks at age 15 in order to afford drugs. Now, she says, the drugs do nothing:

“You don’t know what its like to go buy a bag of dope, do it, and not get high cause your tolerance is high, just to feel normal. You know what I mean, you’re spending money just to feel normal, you’re not even get- the thrill is gone.”

Hers isn’t a story many would venture out to hear. But as she talks, photographer Jeffrey Stockbridge listens and records it for his blog, Kensington Blues.

Some people write WordPress blogs in order to escape real life. Stockbridge, however, uses the service to document it down to its grittiest, harshest realities.

The Philadelphian photographs, records, and transcribes the stories of some of the most marginalized people in his city—the prostitutes and drug addicts who reluctantly populate Kensington Avenue.

The Tumblr may only be a few months old, but Stockbridge wrote that the project it documents has already been in the works for three years.

“Its been almost three years since I started making pictures along Kensington Avenue in North Philadelphia,” he wrote in his first post last August. “The idea to create a blog to track the progress of this project has been a long time in the making.

A photographer who has had his work displayed internationally, Stockbridge wrote that he hadn’t intended his portraits of prostitutes to also have an audio dimension. Actually, he’d brought his tape recorder to record notes for himself but became captivated by the stories of his subjects.

“As I was embarking on a new project and didn’t know exactly where it would lead me, I decided to bring my audio recorder along to track my thoughts,” he wrote. “Instead of recording myself, I wound up recording Melissa.”

Stockbridge’s blog does not allow comments, but the account has 800 email subscribers. He isn’t just giving these marginalized women voices. He’s giving them listeners, too.

Photo by Kensington Blues

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